US 20050145383 A1
This invention relates to a process for the recovery of hydrocarbons from a hydrocarbon bearing formation having an extraction chamber where the extraction chamber has an extraction surface. The process has the steps of heating a solvent, such as propane, and then placing the solvent into the extraction chamber at a temperature and a pressure sufficient for the solvent to be in a vapor state in said chamber and to condense on said extraction surface. The next step is to produce a liquid blend of solvent and heavy oil and then to separate the solvent from said heavy oil. Then the solvent is purified, before being re-injected into the formation again. The purification step removes less condensable fractions from the solvent to ensure a purity that is high enough to support continued heat transfer at extraction conditions. The pressure and temperature are set to levels to cause less volatile fractions to drain away with the liquid bitumen and solvent blend that is produced, thus mitigating heat transfer poisoning.
1. A process for injecting a condensing solvent into an underground hydrocarbon bearing formation having an extraction chamber with an extraction surface, the process comprising the steps of;
selecting a solvent;
heating said solvent;
injecting said solvent in a vapour form into said formation; and
maintaining a pressure and a temperature in said extraction chamber such that bubble point conditions are achieved at the bitumen interface wherein, volatile compounds released by said hydrocarbons being recovered are carried away with said recovered hydrocarbons in a liquid state.
2. An apparatus for recovering hydrocarbons from an underground formation using a condensing solvent, the apparatus comprising:
a means to purify a solvent;
a means for heating said solvent;
an injector for injecting said solvent in a vapour form into said formation under pressure to achieve bubble point conditions at an extraction surface;
a recovery well for recovering a liquid blend of solvent and hydrocarbon from said formation; and
a separator for separating said solvent from said hydrocarbon.
3. An apparatus for recovering hydrocarbons from an underground formation using a condensing solvent, as claimed in
4. An apparatus for recovering hydrocarbons from an underground formation using a condensing solvent, as claimed in
5. An apparatus for recovering hydrocarbons from an underground formation using a condensing solvent, as claimed in
6. An apparatus for recovering hydrocarbons from an underground formation using a condensing solvent, as claimed in
7. An apparatus for recovering hydrocarbons from an underground formation using a condensing solvent, as claimed in
8. An apparatus for recovering hydrocarbons from an underground formation using a condensing solvent, as claimed in
9. An apparatus for recovering hydrocarbons from an underground formation using a condensing solvent, as claimed in
10. An apparatus for recovering hydrocarbons from an underground formation using a condensing solvent, as claimed in
This application is a continuation of application Ser. No. 10/176,093 which was filed Jun. 20, 2002, the entire contents of which are hereby incorporated by reference.
This patent applies generally to the field of resource extraction and more particularly to the recovery of hydrocarbons for use as fuel. Most particularly this invention relates to the recovery of heavy oils and bitumen from, for example, tar sand deposits.
Tar sands, such as are found in Alberta, Canada, contain vast reserves of hydrocarbon resources, of the type referred to as heavy oil and bitumen. Heavy oil means crude oil that has high specific gravity and viscosity. These characteristics make it difficult to extract the oil from the typically tightly packed sand formations found in tar sands, because, unlike lighter oil deposits, heavy oil and bitumen do not readily flow.
In the past steam has been injected into the oil-bearing formation to improve the rate of bitumen and heavy oil extraction. There are a number of different stream extraction techniques, including steam cycling, steam floods and more recently steam assisted gravity drainage, commonly known as SAGD. The steam raises the temperature of the oil thereby reducing its viscosity and allowing it to flow more easily. Steam extraction is subject to a number of problems, including heat losses during injection, clay swelling problems, thief zones, water-oil emulsions, capillary surface tension effects and lack of confinement for shallower zones, and therefore is not widely used.
Thermal recovery processes using steam also require using large amounts of energy to produce the steam in the first place, which releases enormous amounts of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. For example, a 100,000 bbl oil/day facility requires 200,000-300,000 bbl water/day to be converted into steam at 200C. Therefore, if fueled by natural gas, a 100,000 bbl oil/day extraction facility will produce more than 12 million pounds per day of carbon dioxide emissions. With the high cost of natural gas, many operators will use less expensive coal, coke or bitumen. However, such fuels generate about twice as much carbon dioxide emissions per bbl of steam as natural gas. Thus, fuel substitution could potentially double the carbon dioxide emissions to 24 million lbs/day for a 100,000-bopd SAGD facility. In other words, to recover just one barrel of bitumen by steam produces about 240 lbs of carbon dioxide emissions. Therefore, a better recovery technique than steam injection is highly desirable.
Nenniger.sup.1 (1979) first proposed the idea of replacing steam with cold (unheated) solvent vapour such as ethane or carbon dioxide for deep deposits and producing the heavy oil by gravity drainage. However to date there has not been a successful commercial pilot of this cold solvent approach. The predicted production rates from laboratory tests are simply too slow to yield a cost effective treatment. Bench tests.sup.2 using solvent (propane) and sand have shown that production rates can be increased about 20 fold simply by increasing the extraction temperature from 20 C to 90.degree. C. However, Butler2 indicated that propane was unsuitable for direct heating and proposed indirect heating of the propane vapour by co-injection of hot water. However, co-injection of steam or hot water which is heated above grade also suffers from a number of problems, such as countercurrent heat exchange problems during startup, formation damage problems with clays, and non-Newtonian emulsions, capillary pressure issues, water treatment, water supply, and reduced oil permeability due to high water saturations. sup. 1 Nenniger, E. H., Hydrocarbon Recovery, Canadian Patent 1,059,432.sup.2 See Table 1 and FIG. 7 of Butler et al, A New Process for Recovering Heavy Oils using Hot Water and Hydrocarbon Vapours, JCPT January 1991, pg 100.
Canadian patent application 2,235,085 by John Nenniger teaches using a downhole heater to heat and vaporize solvents in situ to quickly grow the solvent chamber. This prior patent application teaches that a re-boiling of the solvent in the hot zone and then re-condensation (reflux) at the bitumen interface can occur, for enhanced recovery. Subsequently, two patent applications of Suncor Energy Inc. 2,304,938 and 2,281,276 were filed which repeat the teachings of using a downhole heat source to set up an in situ reflux cycle for a solvent, comprised of for example a combination of propane and waste CO2.
Another approach is taken in patent application 2,299,790 by John Nenniger, which discloses the latent heat of condensation of several fluids as a function of temperature at their respective vapour pressures. It teaches that to reduce the extraction temperature below SAGD (i.e. to reduce energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions) then the only suitable gases to deliver heat are propane, butane and pentane and the like. Steam has such a low volumetric heat capacity that is unsuitable at lower extraction temperatures. Ethane has such a low critical temperature that it is unable to deliver latent heat above about 30 C. This prior application teaches, for example, that if the Stokes-Einstein law applies, then at 40 C the diffusion coefficient is expected to be about 100 times larger than the diffusion coefficient at 8 C (i.e. original reservoir temperature).
The prior patent application also teaches the expected extraction rate as a function of extraction temperature. For comparison, non-thermal vapour extraction rates (such as Vapex) are about 1 cm/day while SAGD extraction rates (at 200 C) are about 5 cm/day. While the curves of the prior patent application are theoretical and may differ from experimental measurements, the key point is that moderate temperature increases in the bitumen are expected to provide dramatically accelerated bitumen extraction rates. With the added benefit of solvent dilution and deasphalting (as compared to a steam process which is purely thermal), the condensing solvent extraction process taught offers the potential for much higher extraction rates than SAGD at much lower temperatures.
Typically, experiments done on tar sand deposits have been performed on recovered samples. Such recovered samples do not have the same characteristics as the in situ oil, having undergone a temperature and pressure change in the process of recovery. Although various forms of condensing heat transfer such as SAGD, and the Suncor reflux system have been proposed, the effect of light gases which are difficult to condense in an extraction or solvent chamber process have neither been understood nor accounted for. This may be because such light gases are typically lost before samples are placed in laboratory tests, meaning that testing results are obtained from “dead” samples.
This invention is directed to identifying what mixture of vapours is present in the reservoir, determining the effect such a mixture may have on any condensing solvent heat transfer into the bitumen or heavy oil and implementing process steps and conditions to counter any negative effects. In particular this invention considers the effect of less condensable impurities in the solvent on the heat and mass transfer rates. This invention comprehends establishing process conditions and materials to reduce a vulnerability to heat transfer and/or mass transfer “poisoning” caused by less condensable compounds. Thus, the present invention provides solutions for managing the same whether such compounds are naturally present in the formation, are released during the extraction process into the extraction chamber or are co-injected as impurities with a feed solvent.
The present invention comprehends establishing process conditions for the recovery process for ensuring that heat generated in the thermal process is delivered to the extraction chamber surface in conditions permitting recovery to be optimized. The present invention has greatest effect for heavy oils, but is also applicable to enhancing recovery of less viscous oils.
In one aspect the present invention is directed to a means to produce heavy oil and bitumen at moderate temperatures with simultaneous in situ upgrading. The present invention is directed to a condensing solvent recovery process which has much lower energy requirements relative to steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) and simultaneously upgrades the heavy oil in situ. Such a recovery process decreases the cost of extraction while simultaneously increasing the value of the production thereby improving both the operating and profit margins. In addition, such a process provides a more energy efficient extraction technique that reduces the greenhouse gas emissions by more than ⅔ compared to existing SAGD commercial technology.
The present invention is also directed to a recovery process that economically accelerates oil production rate by encouraging the rapid extraction of bitumen. The preferred process accelerates the extraction rate through injection of heated solvent vapour into the recovery chamber formed in the reservoir. As the solvent condenses on a cold bitumen extraction surface it supplies heat and dilution to the bitumen interface to accelerate the extraction. In the most preferred form of the present invention no water or steam is co-injected, avoiding the problems associated with the presence of a liquid water phase in the formation.
The present invention is directed to a process in which the injected solvent is purified enough so that it can substantially condense at the preferred extraction conditions. Purification is desired because trace amounts of less condensable contaminants such as methane, ethane, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, or any other volatile less condensable (at reservoir recovery conditions) components can interfere with the condensing of the solvent and thereby poison the heat transfer. If the heat transfer is compromised the extraction of the bitumen or heavy oil will also be compromised.
A further aspect of the present invention is to choose specific pressure (or temperature) extraction conditions to enhance condensation of the solvent and to mitigate the harmful effect of any such contaminants present in the formation. More specifically the present invention is directed to recovery processes in which one or more of a gas-liquid equilibria as a function of temperature and pressure, extraction rate vs bitumen interface temperature, concentration gradients within the vapour chamber, and bitumen/condensed solvent ratios as a function of extraction temperature are selected and managed to ensure effective heat transfer and thus, effective extraction. In one aspect the temperature and the pressure are set at the high end of a permissible range for the formation, at or below the fracture pressure, but below the critical pressure for the solvent.
The present invention is directed to reviewing the naturally occurring hydrocarbon deposit, and evaluating the amount of dissolved gases present other than the selected solvent. Then operating temperatures and pressures are established to keep the proportion of such other gases present low enough to permit a continuous condensation of feed solvent at desired face temperatures to occur. Thus, the concentration of, for example, less condensable gases present in the formation at extraction conditions is kept to a level such that the heat transfer is permitted to occur at a more or less at a uniform rate. Thus, while some degradation over time is possible, according to the present invention such temperature degradation is limited to an amount at which effective heat transfer can occur.
The present invention is also directed to a process for the recovery of hydrocarbons from a hydrocarbon bearing formation as claimed in claim 1 wherein said solvent is purified sufficiently so that when combined with less condensable compounds released in said formation from said hydrocarbons being recovered the total mole fraction of any non-condensable compounds present is less than 5 mol %.
Further, the present invention is directed to a recovery process in which the solvent vapour will fill the extraction chamber over time, to replace the removed or produced hydrocarbons, and will thus accumulate in the extraction chamber. Much of this solvent can be recovered at the end of the cycle by lowering the pressure and sweeping the chamber with another gas, if desired.
Therefore, among the objects of the present invention are to provide a method and apparatus to extract heavy oil and bitumen which uses condensing solvent vapour, the process being tolerant to contamination from volatile gases naturally present in the reservoir, which would normally poison other solvent extraction processes.
Another object of the present invention is to provide a process that includes the steps of producing solvent from the reservoir, separating solvent from the bitumen, purifying the solvent to reduce concentrations impurities consisting of both higher boiling and lower boiling compounds, and pressurizing, heating and vapourizing the solvent and reinjecting the solvent back into the bitumen reservoir as a vapour.
Another object is to provide a process that operates at elevated temperature and pressure to mitigate the effect of naturally occurring heat and mass transfer poisons in the heavy oil or bitumen reservoir.
Another object is to obtain a solvent purity which has at least a dewpoint temperature within 20, 15, 10, or 5 C of a bubble point temperature at a desired extraction pressure.
Another object is to provide a process and apparatus for a solvent vapour extraction process that operates at pressures just below, at, or just above the reservoir fracture pressure, to promote solvent penetration into the bitumen, increase the interfacial contact area and provide rapid extraction of the bitumen.
Reference will now be made, by way of example only, to preferred embodiments of the invention as illustrated in the accompanying drawings and in which:
The hot solvent 13 (
The produced hydrocarbons or bitumen are separated from the solvent at surface 11 in separator 28. The separation of bitumen from the solvent preferably includes one or more flash steps at an elevated temperature. Most preferably, a series of flashes at successively lower pressures and/or higher temperatures are provided to minimize solvent losses in the sales bitumen. The present invention comprehends using a number of flashes that is appropriate to the liquid bitumen solvent blend being recovered. Factors to consider in how many steps to use and at what temperatures and pressures are energy efficiency, reliability, and potential for fouling problems (i.e. deposition of asphaltenes) and or separation problems (foaming etc).
The next step according to the present invention is to purify the solvent for re-use 30. In this sense purify means to remove from the solvent compounds which may have dewpoints at temperatures other than the dewpoint temperature of pure solvent at the same pressure. As will be explained in more detail below, the solvent is purified to keep harmful contaminants including light 34 and heavy 32 contaminants at or below target concentrations at the extraction surface in the formation. Contaminants separated in the solvent purification may be blended into the sales bitumen 33 to reduce diluent requirements to meet pipeline specifications and/or blended into the fuel gas 35.
The next step according to the present invention is to add make up solvent 36 to replace the void volume in the formation created by the extracted bitumen. (Depending on the purity of the available makeup solvent, it may be added either before or after the recycled solvent is purified.)
Finally, the purified solvent is compressed 40, heated 12 and re-injected as a vapour into the reservoir via the injection well. The heat may also be obtained from low temperature “waste heat” produced, for example, by electricity generation.
The process 30 to purify the solvent may include a series of distillation columns 32 to remove impurities. Impurities, in this sense means compounds which alter the bubble point or dewpoint temperature of a solvent vapour in said formation as compared to the dewpoint or bubble point temperature of pure feed solvent. The primary impurities are compounds, which are less condensable than the selected solvent. The term “less condensable compounds” which as used in this specification means compounds (nitrogen, methane, ethane and the like) present in the formation at the extraction surface which are not condensable at the same temperature as the solvent at reservoir pressure. Thus, methane, which condenses at a temperature about 200 C lower than propane is considered less condensable than propane at the same temperature and pressure and is an impurity. This does not of course mean that less condensable compounds are not condensable at other conditions, but merely at the extraction conditions occurring at the extraction surface 22. Other types of impurities are heavy compounds, which are also undesirable as explained below.
The relative volatility of less condensable compounds vs. the hydrocarbon solvent is larger at low temperatures. This means that it is easier to separate the solvent from the less condensable compounds at lower temperatures. However, low temperatures can also lead to problems with freezing/precipitation of higher molecular weight species. Usually a solvent purification process is designed to eliminate the heavier compounds first (at a higher temperature) and then eliminate the lighter less condensable compounds with a low temperature separation process. The present invention comprehends a purification process having a sequence of distillation columns, but also comprehends semi-permeable membranes, molecular sieves, pressure swing absorption columns, expansion turbines, Joule Thomson cooling or other purification techniques as will be known to those skilled in the art. The selection of which purification process or processes to use will depend upon the availability of resources in the field, the costs of equipment and the like. What is desired according to the present invention is a purification step and equipment that can reliably remove compounds having higher or lower dewpoint or boiling point temperatures than the solvent selected for the recovery process (all at the same pressure), to achieve a desired purity of the solvent for placement into the formation.
According to the present invention the purification process will need to provide consistent purification even though the solvent composition and throughput might vary over time. For example, the solvent production rates from a particular well will increase with time as the chamber grows and the interfacial contact area with the bitumen increases. Individual wells will be periodically shut in for repair and maintenance activities. Thus, the solvent separation and purification process must be tolerant to process upsets and variable flowrates. In some cases it may be desirable to use internal flow loops 39 to assure that a minimum feed rate is always available. Another aspect of the present invention is to provide adequate solvent storage capacity 42 and/or an ability to shut in production, so that the excess solvent doesn't have to be flared (wasted) if an injection well is temporarily shut down.
The benefits of using a medium temperature condensing solvent as the heat transfer mechanism for reducing hydrocarbon are taught in the prior patent application 2,299,790 to John Nenniger. The present invention is directed to establishing process conditions in the formation to permit such benefits to be realized. Central to the present invention is the heat transfer process in the reservoir. Conduction heat transfer through the reservoir matrix is very effective for short distances and totally ineffective for distances greater than 1-2 meters. For example, a cold ceramic coffee cup heats up within a few seconds of being filled with boiling water (heat penetration rate-3 mm/30 seconds=100 microns/second). Compare this observation to 6 months of winter in Canada, which rarely allows the frost line to penetrate more 2 meters into the soil (penetration rate .about.2000 mm/180 days=0.1 micron/second or 1000 times slower). A solvent chamber might be 100 m wide and 30 m tall. Thus, virtually none of the heat delivery from the injection well to the cold bitumen interface can occur via thermal conduction.
The primary mechanism for heat transfer is to have the heated solvent vapour displaced out to the cold bitumen interface (the extraction surface), to then condense and to release its latent heat of condensation at the cold bitumen interface. Even at the extraction surface, conduction heat transfer into the bitumen only occurs within a relatively thin layer extending perhaps a few centimeters beyond the bitumen interface. The present invention therefore recognizes that the success of any vapourized solvent extraction process depends on efficient and continued delivery of the solvent vapour to the bitumen interface. Unless there is an efficient delivery of hot solvent vapour to the bitumen interface the extraction process will stop.
The box 50 can now be used to understand several aspects of the present invention. Turning to the void space 52 in the box 50, it will fill with a mixture of various compounds in a vapour state. First there will be the solvent vapour. Also there will be a certain small amount of less condensable gases (such as methane) in the feed solvent vapour that enters the box, which are contaminants still present after the purification step. Additionally, there are less condensable compounds naturally emitted by the bitumen as it heats up, that enter the box 50. These sources of less condensable compounds result in a certain vapour concentration of less condensable compounds being present in the vapour mixture in box 50. The less condensable compounds have a slight solubility in the draining bitumen/solvent liquid so some of the less condensable gases are carried away with the produced liquid. The present invention comprehends controlling the rate of accumulation of less condensable compounds within the void 52 of box 50. The present invention also comprehends controlling rate of injection of such less condensable compounds (by setting a desired purity for the feed solvent) as well as controlling the rate of extraction of the same, by manipulating extraction temperature and pressure.
However, the feed solvent vapour will typically contain some small amount of a non-condensable gas. If the non-condensable gas is totally insoluble in the liquid blend of condensed solvent and bitumen, then the non-condensable gas has nowhere to go and therefore accumulates in the void 52 in box 50. The flow of solvent vapour to the extraction surface acts to keep the less condensable gases concentrated at the interface. As the solvent continues to condense and drain as a liquid, the non-condensable compounds will continue to be carried into the box in the feed vapour and the concentration of the less condensable gas will continue to increase over time. Eventually there is no room for solvent vapour to enter the box 50 because the vapour phase in the box is filled with impurities such as less condensable gas. At this point, the extraction process stops because the solvent vapour can no longer reach the bitumen. Thus, according to the present invention to achieve a “steady-state” process all of the feed vapour (including less condensable species and solvent) must completely condense to allow more solvent vapour to continue to enter the box 50 to permit the process to continue.
Consider the following examples. What is the impact of a 1 mol % methane contamination in a 99% mol % propane solvent gas flowing outwards to condense on a 8 C bitumen interface at 1000 kPa. (assuming for the moment that no additional less condensable compounds are present in the bitumen). The dewpoint temperature of the solvent is about 26 C and the bubble point temperature is about 22 C. Thus the solvent gas 13 starts to condense at 26 C. However, at 26 C, the methane concentration in the condensed liquids is only about 0.1%. This means that 90% of the methane in the vapour is not removed by the condensing fluids. Therefore, at 26 C the methane concentration increases in the vapour phase in the box 50 (i.e. at the bitumen interface) until the 1 mol % methane originally supplied in the solvent can be entirely removed via the condensing liquids. At 1000 kPa, the methane concentration in the vapour at the bitumen interface will increase and the condensing temperature will drop until the bubble point conditions of 9.5 mol % methane 90.5 mol % propane at 22 C are achieved.
At 9.5 mol % methane and 22 C the draining liquids (propane+bitumen) are able to carry away the 1 mol % methane, 99 mol % propane composition as supplied by the vapour, and thereby maintain the convective flow of fresh solvent gas to the bitumen interface. In other words, enough methane has accumulated in the box 50 that it can be removed at the same rate as it is supplied.
It is significant to note that in the example above, at the 1000 kPa extraction pressure, the methane concentration in the vapour 52 in the box 50 (i.e. at the bitumen interface) is about 10 times higher than the feed concentration in the solvent 13. This shows that very small concentrations of contaminant less condensable gases have the potential to accumulate to very high concentrations at the extraction or condensing surface 22.
Consider the example where the feed solvent gas 13 has 5 mol % impurity contamination by, for example, methane (i.e. feed solvent is 95% propane) and the extraction pressure is 1000 kPa. In this case, the feed solvent mixture (95 mol % propane and 5 mol % methane) has a dewpoint temperature of about 22 C and a bubble point temperature of about 3 C. If the original reservoir temperature is 8 C, then the solvent is unable to fully condense, because the reservoir temperature is above the bubblepoint temperature. Since the solvent cannot fully condense at these conditions, the methane contamination will accumulate in box 50 of
In reality the situation is even worse than the foregoing examples suggest. The tar sands normally have some methane gas associated with them. The gas/bitumen ratios (GBR) are quite low compared to conventional light crudes but have been reported in range of 1-2 for Gulf Surmont up to 7 for Esso Cold Lake. It appears that the deeper the deposit, the larger the GBR. Typical values appear to be about 2-5 m3 vapour per m3 of bitumen for Athabasca bitumen. As the bitumen is mobilized, the associated methane gas will partition between the bitumen phase and the vapour phase. The next example considers the effect of this naturally occurring non-condensable fraction on the heat transfer occurring at the extraction surface.
Consider the Thermal-Solvent and SWEEP processes described by Baker et al. (Canadian patent applications 2,281,276, 2,304,938). These applications describe the use of a downhole heater to strip the solvent out of the bitumen in the extraction chamber and thereby recycle solvent within the formation before the hot bitumen is produced to surface. The insitu recycle processes appear to have the advantages of eliminating the capital expenses of above grade solvent separation, compression and re-injection. The applications teach that the use of heat downhole will preferentially recycle the lighter (i.e. more volatile solvent fractions) back into the solvent chamber. Since methane is the most volatile component and it has negligible solubility in the bitumen at the 150-200 C stripping temperature and 1000 kPa pressure described by Baker et al. it is reasonable to assume that all of the methane originally associated with the bitumen is returned to the solvent vapour chamber.
At these conditions the mol % methane in the feed solvent vapour for the insitu solvent recycle process needs to be considered. In such a process all of the methane originally associated with the bitumen must remain in the chamber. If the initial gas bitumen ratio is 3 m3 methane gas (at standard temperature and pressure (0 C and 101 kPa)) per m3 of bitumen then there will be 3 m3 of methane per m3 of porosity in the chamber. Assuming a chamber temperature of 25 C, then the methane partial pressure will be about 330 kPa (=3.times.101 kPa.times.298K/273K) and the propane partial pressure will be 670 kPa (=1000−330 kPa). Thus, the methane concentration in the feed solvent vapour 13 entering the box 50 is about 33 mol %.
There are several important points to note from
Now consider that the earlier calculations showed that a methane concentration above 5 mol % in the feed (i.e. entering our box of
According to the present invention the condensed solvent is produced to the surface along with the extracted bitumen 11. The solvent is separated 28 and purified 30 so that relatively pure solvent 13 can be re-injected into the chamber. There still exists a source of methane contamination in the recovery process. Methane enters the box 50 (because it is associated with the bitumen) upon being released from the bitumen.
However, for gas bitumen ratios above 4 m3/m3 at 1000 kPa and 8C (i.e. at original reservoir conditions) then some gas phase is likely present in the reservoir. The gas phase would probably occur as small “bubbles” and could possibly provide “compressibility” if the solvent vapour chamber pressure is maintained above original reservoir pressure. In the case of a water film on the surface of the reservoir sand, immobile bitumen and some slight compressibility due to a gas phase, we also have the possibility to develop a “leak path” allowing the solvent to flow into and thereby penetrate the bitumen interface. Undersome circumstances (high gas bitumen ratio and very high chamber pressures) it is also believed that the accumulated methane at the bitumen interface could even be pushed back into the bitumen, so that the bitumen extraction face can be directly exposed to essentially only the feed condensing solvent vapour. Furthermore, instead of static diffusion to transport the solvent into the bitumen there is also a possibility of using convection mixing to increase the interfacial contact area and accelerate the mass transfer rates. The beneficial effect of faster solvent penetration would be most noticeable at pressures close to the formation frac pressure. Thus, according to the present invention there are a number of reasons to operate the recovery process towards at the highest feasible pressure. In this sense the highest feasible pressure means a pressure which is high enough to take advantage of the foregoing benefits without creating a host of fresh problems. Thus, a preferred range is within about 25% of the frac pressure with the most preferred being within about 10% of the frac pressure.
The temperature sensitivity of
The present invention also comprehends using a periodic blowdown or venting of the vapour mixture from the solvent chamber help avoid the accumulation of non-condensible gases at the bitumen interface. Blowdown would allow methane to be produced to surface as a gas. Also, blowdown might be warranted if the methane, for example, tended to accumulate in the upper portion of the chamber due to relative buoyancy effects. Methane is lighter than propane and thus over time might tend to float over the propane at the upper part of the chamber. It may be desirable to periodically vent the methane from the top of the chamber to ensure that the condensing solvent has access to the full solvent extraction surface. Blowdown would also reduce the chamber pressure so that subsequent propane vapour injection was feasible.
However, it will be appreciated by those skilled in the art that blowdown has some drawbacks. The methane gas preferentially accumulates at the bitumen interface so the methane has to travel the furthest possible distance to reach the injection well. Thus, one would expect the methane concentration in vented gas to be small until the chamber blowdown is almost complete.
One of the issues addressed by the present invention is to establish reasonable solvent purity specifications. The data shown in
Consider injection of a “practical” solvent vapour which is reasonably pure, but which does include some methane contamination. By way of example only, contamination of 0%, 1% 3% and 5% are shown in
Although the discussion above is referenced to methane it will be understood that the foregoing discussion applies to all other light fractions which may be similarly present either in the feed solvent or in the bitumen being recovered. Thus, the solvent purity for other contaminants is also a consideration. Methane is likely to be the dominant “poison”, and some degree of poisoning is inevitable because methane is naturally associated with the bitumen. However, in any process that recycles the solvent, it is possible that other trace impurities or contaminants may also accumulate within the solvent over time. Consider specifications for ethane-ethylene as a function of gas/bitumen ratio and extraction temperature. Since ethane-ethylene are more difficult to separate from the propane than methane, the ethane-ethylene concentrations might eventually become excessive over time even if a target methane purity specification was achieved. The present invention comprehends managing solvent purity, extraction temperature and pressure and setting an overall bubblepoint specification which accounts for the effects of all contaminant gases including nitrogen, argon, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulphide, or the like.
Gases that are heavier than the preferred propane solvent, such as butane, pentane, hexane, heptane, benzene etc. can also be a source of contamination in the recycled solvent. The “heavies” will tend to raise the dewpoint temperature at the chamber pressure (i.e. extraction pressure). In other words, the presence of heavy contaminants in the injected solvent will require higher temperatures to keep the solvent as a vapour. The solvent vapour will begin to condense and release its latent heat at the dewpoint temperature but the bubble point considerations at the bitumen interface (
According to the present invention the presence of “heavies” in the solvent vapour is undesirable and will tend to reduce thermal efficiency by raising the dewpoint temperature and by also indirectly reducing the bubblepoint temperature of the vapour at the bitumen interface. Again the precise specification for solvent vapour purity will depend on a detailed analysis which considers purification costs, thermal efficiencies, energy costs, and extraction rates etc.
According to the present invention the most preferred recovery process will include considering all of the contaminant gases in the injected solvent, as well as contribution from the gases associated with the extracted bitumen. Once these are known, then purity requirements for the solvent can be established which ensures an overall bubble point temperature that is suitable for effective recovery of the hydrocarbons.
Thus the present invention comprehends managing the purity of the feed solvent to maintain a temperature differential or band between the bubble point temperature and the dew point temperature of the vapour mixture of no more than a predetermined amount, at a desired extraction pressure. The preferred predetermined amount will vary depending upon the trade off between purification costs and energy costs. The smaller the temperature difference between the two, the more energy is directed into heating the bitumen but the more pure and thus more expensive the feed solvent needs to be. For most applications a temperature band of about 30 degrees or less is suitable and the most preferred temperature band is about 10 degrees or less.
The heat transfer coefficient for the condensing solvent is also affected by the amount of methane concentration in the injected or feed solvent. The coefficient is expected to scale with the mol % of propane in the box 50 (i.e. material balance control volume) of
Although the foregoing description includes reference to propane solubility in bitumen, there is no published data currently available for propane solubility in bitumen. The flash calculations (bubble points, compositions etc) used in this specification were performed with a fairly simple thermodynamic model. Thus, some of the “K” values used to calculate equilibria have been estimated. It is believed that the thermodynamic values contained in this specification may differ from values obtained with actual lab data. However, the present invention comprehends such more precise values and it is believed that the values provided herein are if anything conservative. It is believed that the use of lab data will only serve to emphasize the trends shown in
It will be understood by those skilled in the art that the material balance control volumes shown schematically in
It will be further understood by those skilled in the art that the nature of heavy oil and bitumen reservoirs can vary dramatically from location to location. The “typical” conditions described in this patent were specifically chosen to provide a comparison with the insitu recycle processes and Vapex and to show how the present invention is appropriate for a wide range of reservoir conditions. Also as noted earlier, methane was referenced as the primary less condensable gas for convenience, but the present invention comprehends all other less condensable gases that might be present in the reservoir or in the makeup solvent supply.
It will be appreciated by those skilled in the art that the foregoing description is with respect to preferred embodiments of the invention and that many variations and alterations are possible without departing from the scope of the appended claims. Some of these variations have been discussed above and others will be apparent to those skilled in the art.